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Moving the Masses to “Get Fit, Not Hit”
UFC GYM provides high-level conditioning without the combat

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Nearly everyone would love to look like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva or Ronda Rousey.

But not quite as many care to endure the spinning kicks, arm bars and choke holds along the way.

For that enthusiastic but decidedly less-combative crowd, Philip Jacobs has an alternative.

Jacobs is director of franchising for UFC GYM, which is the first major brand extension of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) mixed martial arts organization, and promises fitness-seekers of all capabilities the chance to practice the training techniques – without the trauma – of famed UFC athletes.

“Our premise is that a martial arts fighter, pretty much regardless of record, is probably the most well-conditioned athlete in all of sports,” Jacobs said. “A fighter doesn’t get in shape by getting punched in the face. He gets in condition by working out. So we took the best parts of their workouts and applied them to servicing soccer moms, dads and their kids.”

And the brand’s staying power, he said, lies in its stimulation factor.

“The big-box gym – 24-Hour Fitness, LA Fitness, there are dozens of them – are like what broadcast TV was years ago, trying to be all things to all people. But that business model got old,” Jacobs said.

“People became more sophisticated, they want more stimulation and they can afford more. Therefore, you’ve got cable channels, specialties. It’s the same thing with the gym business, you have specialties – it started with Billy Blanks’ Tae-Bo and now it’s CrossFit. We call them ‘flavors of the month.’ Our workouts are more stimulating. It’s not martial arts. It’s not flavor of the month.

“It’s been here forever and it will be here.”

While UFC’s first sanctioned competition actually occurred more than 20 years ago, its impact has been far more tangible over the last several years – thanks to increased visibility on cable and network television, boosted buy rates for pay-per-view events and popularity with teenagers and young adults.

“In terms of fan base and passion and hype, it’s all MMA now. Not boxing. Once Mike Tyson left the arena, you can say that was it. The day the music died,” Jacobs said.

The gym’s origins stretch back to the UFC’s internal decision to pursue status as a public company.

Its leadership – which lists Harley-Davidson and World Wrestling Entertainment as corporate role models – surveyed Wall Street interest and was told that, in addition to clearing up some financial issues and lawsuits, brand extension was a vital step to take before such a move was organizationally feasible.

“The UFC owns the white male demographic, but doesn’t own Asians, African-Americans, Latins and women,” Jacobs said, “and they also needed more retail apparel outlets.”

The UFC subsequently partnered with Marc Mastrov – founder of 24-Hour Fitness and owner of several other gym-related brands – and in early 2013 purchased LA Boxing, which had been the largest existing boxing/kickboxing gym operation for 15 years, with 80 gyms open in 23 states.

The remainder of 2013 was spent converting those LA Boxing gyms to the new UFC label, while keeping the same business model that serviced the same crowd with a “get fit, not hit” marketing theme.

“That’s where we’re at today,” Jacobs said. “We spent all last year rebranding and we now have more than 100 gyms open, and we’re building two to three a month and we’re awarding a couple of dozen franchises a month. So we’re going to go from 100 gyms to 500 gyms in 36 months. And then we’re going global – Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the U.K. This thing is going to take off.”

Most of the gyms are about 5,000 or 6,000 square feet – about the size of a Blockbuster video store, Jacobs said – though some are as large as 30,000 or 40,000 square feet.

Most also feature a functional training area, octagon or half-octagon, a bag area with 30 heavy bags, cutting-edge cardio and strength equipment, private training and retail. All are located in retail strips and the typical location is in a center anchored by a grocery store within a bedroom community.

“The UFC is one of the most powerful brands in the world,” Mastrov said, “and having access to that brand and creating it around a holistic gym approach is the most amazing opportunity anyone could have in a franchise.”

Franchise fee is $30,000 and the 10-year agreement is renewable. Financial requirements are a net worth of $500,000 and $175,000 in available liquid cash. Half of all franchisees own more than one unit and the typical number of employees at a unit runs between three and five.

“It can work in any city,” Jacobs said. “All we really need are people with the right age and income. Our belief that the health, wellness and fitness field is growing, so we look for communities that are densely populated and have certain minimum financial household income.”




WHAT: Branded fitness center that also offers group fitness classes, private mixed martial arts training and other activities for all ages and fitness levels

WHERE: Headquarters in Santa Ana, Calif.; More than 100 locations across U.S. and in Australia

WEBSITE: www.UFCGym.com


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